By Tefera Dinberu
Throughout time many poverty-stricken people lured by promises of politicians for freedom and better life rallied behind war lords, local or tribal chiefs, or political organizations and fought poor people like them. However, most promises remained hanging on air from year to year. Popular uprisings caused by dire living conditions that opened the door to newer politicians with new hopes have driven poverty-stricken people to unabated conflicts that in turn became favorable for dissidents and intrusive bodies where external forces also found it very easy to penetrate into such environment and advance their benefits. For example, state leaders of the Sudan and Egypt played as catalysts since 1960’s in stirring conflicts in Ethiopia by supporting factions that they hoped would benefit them. Egypt and the Sudan being motivated to control the flow of the Blue Nile supported ELF or Jabha along with other Arab countries. Somalia under the leadership of Mohamed Siad Barre tried to use the Oromo movement led by Waqo Gutu to advance its expansionist objectives. Such interference of external forces is rampant among many underdeveloped nations.
Developed nations imposed their hegemony over Africa, Asia, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries easily by using insurgents of these poor countries. French and Belgian leaders helped President Habyarimana to manipulate genocide in Rwanda that killed nearly a million Tutsis. Similarly, Moise Tshombe, who led a movement to separate Katanga from mainland Congo, was supported by Belgium and other western countries in1960. Belgian and the US leadership were involved in the overthrow and assassination of democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of Kongo in 1960 when they secured the division of the country into two parts that weakened the state. Congo was divided into the French occupation of Congo Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) and Congo Kinshasa or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where Tshombe became prime minister of from 1964 to 1965. The objective of the superpowers was to exploit the wealth of Congo like diamonds, gold, copper, and cobalt from a weak conflict infested country. Similarly, many insurgencies have been supported in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Syria by external forces all that culminated in the demise of the sovereignty of the countries resulting in forced evacuation of innocent citizens from their historical homes, poverty and all other social misery.
Power-mongers find it easier to create division among people in which cultural values have not developed from tribal, ethnic-bound or narrow nationalism to universal democratized stage. Narrow nationalists make discourse on democracy but in reality, they erode democracy. Democracy engulfs all sectors of the people while narrow nationalism narrows to individual, ethnic or group dictatorship resulting in sectarianism. Under a situation where democracy is pronounced widely, narrow nationalists stigmatize unity or belonging to a multi-national or bigger state. They brand unity as an instrument of oppression by other dominant national groups and go as far as branding unity as colonial phenomena. Ethnic nationalists and elites fan past stories in their local languages to attract people with localized affiliation. So narrow nationalists ironically sow seeds of discord on one side and fill their followers with promises and utopian dreams on the other side. Typical examples are Croatian nationalism, Serbian nationalism, and Georgian nationalism. The extreme side of this category promotes the supremacy of a racial group over other groups as manifested by Fascism, Nazism, and Zionism; so narrow nationalism is a good instrument of dictatorship or inception of faction like in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.
When it comes to Ethiopia, narrow nationalists and their agencies spent millions of dollars to erect hate sparking monuments like the one at Anole, Arsi; they branded an ethnic group as an enemy of the people; expropriated properties of the innocent people; mercilessly killed citizen families as if they were aliens; perpetrated mass eviction of inhabitants from villages that they were born and lived in for generations in many parts of the country, namely Assosa, Benishangul, Gambella, Jimma, Bale, Harar, and many other localities while state leaders did not stop making hate speeches that divide the people and primitive and savagery action was done systematically under the cover of ethnic politicians and local government leaders. Even the routing and mass killing of at least 23 innocent people that took place at Burayu, in the capital city of Addis Ababa, was done under the cover of ethnic bound leaders; that assertion was confirmed as 7 people who participated in a peaceful demonstration to repudiate the incident were killed by police in day light in the capital. There was a promise for democratization and unity of the people under one Ethiopian nation since the coming into power of Prime Minister Abiy in April 2018. His noble concept of “መደመር” is being nipped in the bud before its growth. Good signs have been out shadowed by bad practices like mass eviction, burning churches, and other xenophobic tendencies. Although the bulk of the Oromo people stand for friendly and equal opportunities in all spheres of life, some ethnic nationalists among them that used to struggle against the EPRDF system for equal opportunities recanted their old slogans and diverted themselves to supporting the constitution of EPRDF that was condemned for dividing the nation into ethnic ghettos – Tigray ethnic nationalism being replaced by Oromo ethnic nationalism. All these persuade us to see whether basic and democratic change of the system or personality change is more reliable.
The valor of narrow nationalist state leaders is expressed to the people by saying that they have their own flag, freedom to speak their own language, and worship whatever god they would like to worship where most of such leaders usually end up in being dictators. Since neither real peace would resume nor the living standard of the people would change for good, temporary tranquility is followed by other uprisings. And since such cycle of uprisings do not create stable system of state leadership or governments, the economic life of the people cannot pass beyond self-sufficiency where prosperity remains a remote dream. A denomination like “liberation front” does not project peaceful coexistence but manifests war-mongering objectives. The prevalent worsening ethnic schism has hindered social integration. This situation may be favorable for power-mongers but unfavorable for the public at large; it does not attract entrepreneurs, domestic as well as foreign, to make investments; it keeps the economic development of the country stagnating that in turn keeps on breeding a series of popular upheavals in a waiting cyclical line. So, political and government structure based on ethnicity is an archaic belief that can never build democracy but erodes it. The nature of ethnicity is to directly or indirectly prioritize the interest of a certain group over other groups; so, an ethnic organization is a means of discriminatory by its nature. Whereas religion crosses the boundary of race or ethnicity, and whereas language is an instrument of communication, it could be wiser to discuss on the fair application of these to the benefit of all instead of dreaming of benefits out of conflicts.
No language or religion is inherited by blood but acquired by people. The two dominant languages of Ethiopia can be cited: Although some have lineage from Burthuma and Borana families, most people of Oromo were not originally Oromo by blood. Likewise, all the people identified as Amara today did not originate from family or tribal lineage but are called Amara since their great grandparents spoke Amharic language that was created through historical combination of other languages. In both these languages, race or ethnicity does not essentially have principal roots; the principal cause of conflicts is politics; that cause is so artificial. That is how underdeveloped nations foolishly fall into archaic conflicts and spend their resources hampering their social and economic progress.
What can prevent conflicts and make governments stable?
In order to answer these questions, we need to answer the question, “What do people need?” It is easy to say that people need democracy. The answer is a big YES. However, what is democracy? If democracy is to have a leader that speaks the language of one’s mother tongue, a leader that belongs to the religion of the social group like ethnicity, and waves the flag of one’s social group, or to have a leader that respects the tradition of one’s social group and fights for the supremacy of that social group, or if democracy is all about choosing a leader by majority vote, then such democracy is incomplete and good for northing. Because these merely show political democracy and none of them can improve the basic standard of the people. What is a complete democracy? If you ask a common person in the street what they want most, they will generally say security of food, clean water, house, health service, or job to buy these. Unless one is conditioned to say it, for a free and genuine person, education, religion, language, cultural expression/recreation/ and politics come in the next sequence of preferences. So, without going into further analysis, economic democracy is the basis of all democracies. Without this basis, trying to manifest one’s culture is meaningless. This is manifested by refugees that immigrate into countries with completely different culture of their own, from extremely religious social groups into liberal and even atheist social groups. Communities that came from conservative religious societies and easily adapted the American way of life are good examples. Basic democracy is basic economic freedom – to freely move and work and earn one’s living wherever one deems possible to do that. Basic freedom is the proper use of common resources by the people. Basic freedom is to make business relationship and exchange with any businesses without any limitation and local tariffs, or man-made boundaries. Basic freedom is the ability to live in peace and harmony with neighbors. Basic freedom is also reflected in the fair and common application of the rule of law for all citizens in all walks of life. Basic freedom is the respect of humankind on equal basis irrespective race, language, religion, ethnicity and other creeds; the environment that enables a citizen to invest and harvest under fair and common law is economic democracy. This attracts local entrepreneurs. Economic development is manifested in the blossoming of trades and all types of businesses. In short free local economic development engenders blossoming of domestic capital that can defend a nation from foreign domination. Such economic environment with good governance can bring up industrial growth, increase employment, and betterment of standard of living of the people. Cultural development results from industrial growth because booming business advances socialization where social communication grows fast; industrial products and consumers can borrow the culture of industrially developed societies and hence expansion of culture and language.
However, economy restricted by tariffs and other artificial social boundaries cannot grow or help to advance cultural development; local language can have freedom only in segregated and isolated territories. Making such social restrictions can only hamper social integrity and cause isolationism that becomes obstacle to economic development. The dichotomy of these is that the economic stagnation activates social dissatisfaction that in turn brings about social upheavals that create newer politicians. Such politicians born out of dissatisfaction of the masses can be destructive in fueling social conflicts which makes economically deprived citizens to be easily swayed by their political barrages and fall into pits of social conflicts thus aggravating stagnation of social developments and extending poverty.
Ethiopia is a nation where over 80 nationalities that lived together, shared common histories and cultural values, fought common enemies, survived to date and have common fate. People with common resources and destinies would not have any vision other than being dependent on one another to use the common resources and advance economic, political, social equality, and justice. However, any sectarian thought hampers these common interests. It does not bring about prosperity and peace to the people but would rather be a means of conflicts and anarchy that enables foreign interests and agents to intervene and exploit the weakness. What narrow nationalists did not comprehend is that all ethnic groups in Ethiopia can benefit much from unity in regards to the country’s geopolitical factors, common resources or opportunities that tie the people’s interests and the inseparable culture and life of the people; otherwise any group is to be much weaker alone.
The people need to be aware of the difference between standing for a struggle against all forms of oppression and ethnic struggle against other ethnicity or nationality; that ethnicity has never been a path to equality or democracy but an evil means of destruction of the fabric of our society; any struggle identified by nationality or ethnicity can never be democratic at all – struggles identified by Amara, Oromo, Sidama, Somali, Guraghe, Wolaita, Gambella, etc. ethnicity that are loved by neo-colonialists and power-monger personalities can never advance democracy but break down the fabric of our society and take back the country to medieval ages while the world is progressing with a faster pace. The prevailing tendency will slowly but surely heave popular uproar. It is wise to learn from history.”A stitch in time saves nine.”
No social advantage has come out of chaos but social misery. People need to be aware of demagogues that advance localized and narrow outlook in the name of freedom. People must understand that the first good sign of democracy and good life is peaceful relationship with their neighbors irrespective of language, religion or other creeds and should stop listening to hate-mongers and xenophobes, that politicians that do not advance peaceful relationship among neighbors cannot be democrats. People need to be aware that race, language, and religion are not sources of conflicts but the politicians use them as means of conflicts. People need to be aware that ethnic politics is primitive and undemocratic concept. People must understand the advantage of integration compared to disintegration in the guise of freedom. People must choose between temporary and long-lasting advantages. The solution is people’s consciousness to social developments, understanding that power-monger personalities take advantage of civic grievances and conflicts, to be cautious of dangerous politicians that idealize popular issues and fan grievances and destabilize their social life; people need to be cautious in avoiding chaotic situations that can be hijacked by power thirsty politicians; people need to be aware that there should be free situation to freely choose and delegate reliable personalities that can be entrusted to carry on their voices, the voices of the common people that would like to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors through social integration and engage themselves in all-inclusive democratic representation of government that try should to improve their living conditions on the ground by stable economic development. People need to see the advantage of democracy and individual freedom in contrast to ethnicity. It is democratic to aspire for leaders that do not believe in discrimination based on race, language or religion. Democratization is manifested by the ability to convert conflicts into culture of resolution of conflicts through dialogue and discussion. People need to understand the advantage of a common good. Individual liberty will have more rooms in the happening of expanded collective interests. The dichotomy of this is that if a nation is poor, it is likely that there will be more poor people and more misery. People need to be aware that a great country combines the development of natural resources of different regions of the country in the west, east, north, and south of Ethiopia that enforces the nation to be economically viable and defend itself from foreign domination and that peaceful social and commercial relationships advance economic and cultural development. People need to aware that the more we are divided the more the nation becomes weaker and the more the dimension of poverty and the more the opportune situation for superpowers to dominate and exploit underdeveloped and economically weaker Ethiopia; but on the other hand, social stability brings about industrial growth, strength of the nation to defend foreign domination and serve as a backbone to domestic economy and improvement of the standard of living of the common people. Democracy based on economic foundation meaningfully changes the life of the people.